BOE meeting tonight, grassroots parent/teacher collabo, other news

Even though the Unit 4 schools are closed today, the BOE is still holding their “special” meeting tonight (“special” as in “every 4th week, a little more audience participation allowed”). Of course, there is Big News in that the Board is expected to disclose which property north of I-74 they intend to purchase for the new location of the high school; per Stephanie Stuart:

“Approval of Option and Contract Purchase Agreements for New High School Site” appears as item 8F on the attached agenda. District administration and board members will be available at Monday night’s meeting for comments/interviews regarding the new site.


A number of community folks, including Tod Satterthwaite, Patricia Avery, Minnie Pearson and Holly Nelson have stood up at board meetings in the past couple of months urging the board (in various tones *grin*) to carefully consider what a site north of I-74 will mean in the long run. There have been many questions about Country Fair, and Matt Foster responded quite thoroughly about why Country Fair would not work at the regular board meeting on Jan 13th. Personally, my issue with the whole thing is a lack of concrete facts, especially looking at the long-term. It seems that nobody knows for sure how much this is going to cost. Holly Nelson has done a good job to project possible transportation costs, but it seems that the Board is convinced those costs do not rule out a site north of I-74. Even MTD cannot tell us how much it will cost to bus students (and anyone else interested in going to school events).


I very much encourage you to attend tonight if you want your voice heard.


Additionally, there is a grassroots effort to bring parents, teachers and students together. From the CP4T facebook page:

“Our initial goal is to find ways to help empower parents with the education of their children. We are hoping to help build the communication between teachers and parents, and find ways to provide resources for parents. “

The next gathering will be February 6 at 6:30 pm, at the Champaign Federation of Teacher’s office located at 2902 Crossing Ct #B (look for the signs for Suite D – it is really close to that).


Finally, in other news:

  • PTA Forum tomorrow, Tuesday, January 28, 6:00 8:00 pm at the Champaign library to discuss transitions to Middle School (ie, from 5th to 6th grade). All are welcome. Sponsored by the South Side PTA.
  • The next (and first, since the other first one was cancelled) Schools of Choice Community Forum will be February 4th, at Barkstall Elementary School (2201 Hallbeck Drive in Champaign) at 6 p.m. All families with incoming kindergarten students are encouraged to attend.
  • Another “Community Conversation” with Dr. Wiegand; Sunday, Feruary 9th, 2:00 – 3:30 pm, at El Centro Romero (St. Mary’s Catholic Church), 612 E. Park St, Champaign.

Trevor Nadrozny’s Prezi presentation on Common Core State Standards

The Jefferson PTSA was scheduled to host a Common Core (CCSS) presentation this past week, but it got snowed out. I asked Trevor for the presentation materials, and now I have a link to the online Prezi presentation:


The bulk of the presentation is an RSA-like whiteboard animated drawing from (not exaclty sure how to embed that here in WordPress). The transcript is also included below the flash animation.


Buried in the Prezi (you won’t see it if you just click through) is a blurb from Mary Crego of State Farm (, and another blurb from an unidentified woman, both trying to share the positive aspects of Common Core. Also included are two screen shots of web pages that look like progress charts, ala Khan Academy.


For those that would like to attend the presentation in person, it has been rescheduled for Tuesday February 11th 6-7pm (at Jefferson).


Other links: [broken]


Regular board meeting tonight

Agenda for tonight:

  1. Call to Order
    1. Roll Call
  2. Agenda
    1. Approval of Agenda (Items may not be considered in the same order as the agenda)
  3. Executive Session – 5:30 p.m.
  4. Recognitions
    1. Recognitions
  5. Public Comments
    1. Public Comment on Agenda & Non-Agenda Items
  6. Communications
    1. Communications from CFT
    2. Communications from CESP
    3. Communications from PTA Council
    4. Communications from Board Members
  7. Informational Items
    1. Upcoming Events
  8. Reports: New Business
    1. Middle School After School Programming/40North Grant: Angela Smith This item has files attached
    2. Engaging Solutions Presentation: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    3. Preliminary FY14 Budget Presentation: Matt Foster This item has files attached
  9. Action Agenda: New Business
    1. Administrative Appointment: Ken Kleber
    2. Bills and Treasurer’s Report – August: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    3. Promises Made, Promises Kept Committee: Dr. Judy Wiegand
    4. Approval of Robeson Change Order No. 3: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    5. Approval of Robeson Change Order No. 4: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    6. Approval of Carrie Busey Change Order No. 20: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    7. Approval of the Contract for Sale of Real Estate – 801 Pioneer St./806 Dennison St.: Tom Lockman
  10. Consent Agenda – New/Unfinished Business
    1. Motion to approve the Consent Agenda – New Business
    2. Human Resource Changes: Ken Kleber This item has files attached
    3. Minutes of August 5, 2013 and August 12, 2013
    4. Policy 415.07/R Minority and Female Business Enterprise Goals: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    5. Policy 720.11R Exemption From Physical Activity: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    6. Policy 415.06 – Vendor Relations: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    7. FY14 Consolidated Grant Application to Serve Limited English Proficient (LEP) Students: Maria Alanis This item has files attached
  11. Executive Session
    1. Motion to move to Executive Session
  12. Open Session
    1. Reconvene in open session for possible action on items discussed in closed session.
  13. Adjournment
    1. Motion to adjourn the meeting.
  14. Future Meetings
    1. Special Meeting: September 23, 2013, Regular Meeting: October 14, 2013, Special Meeting: October 28, 2013, Regular Meeting: December 9, 2013


Based on what transpired last week in terms of Kenwood, the discouragement of parents paying for PTA activities and the PTA Council, I expect there to be some comments during Public Comment and the timeslot for the PTA Council.


There are a number of line items dealing with a focus on minorities and women in the workplace (ie, 8.2, 10.4).


Sheri Williamson (PTA Council) and R. Scott Davis (CFT) being added to the PMPK committee (9.3).


9.7, the District is seeking approval to buy two properties for the Bus Garage. The Satellite view of google maps gives a good idea of what the area looks like, including the busses parked across the street. This was previously discussed in Executive (Closed) session.


In 10.7, we get to see a preliminary FY 2014 budget. I encourage you to read it and try to wrap your head around it; it is important that we start to ask questions. Now. I say that as a way to entice stakeholders to understand what all the numbers mean – I know I don’t.


There are a number of other things. I don’t fully understand or follow all the various change orders. There is a part of me scratching my head on why we need so many change orders. Also, I just happened to browse the online check register and noticed that we sent another %5750 to Dr. Alves last month even though his contract expired in May or June. The discussion of the Choice RFP is not on the agenda at all.


What catches your attention?


"Our voices are being heard, but we have a long way to go!"

Today I watched a fascinating scenario unfold, all second-hand mind you, but still extremely intriguing. So your first assignment is to go read what’s publicly available.

From my private emails and phone conversations, I am hearing that are several different perspectives on this situation; it is clear to me that there is significant confusion about what exactly is true. And let me say something that I feel very strongly about – it doesn’t really matter whose fault it is, what is most significant is how folks are hashing out their thoughts, their concerns, gripes and convictions. To me, I see it as a good thing that a relative swarm of Kenwood parents and staff attended the PTA Council meeting tonight. I see it as a good thing that Board Members have their ears to the ground (one way or another) and are attending meetings where bees are buzzing. I do not necessarily agree with what everyone is saying, or even how they are expressing themselves, but in the grand scheme of things, it is important that we are making headway. Which is why I really love the comment about our voices being heard! That is very significant. Yes, we do have a long way to go. Again, not that any one person is to blame, it’s just the nature of the beast we are dealing with right now.

Through this, I was reminded of Dr. Wiegand’s goals for the 2013-2014 school year, in particular:

GOAL #4: The Superintendent will effectively and efficiently engage parents and other community stakeholders resulting in strong partnerships.

A community’s economic growth and stability are dependent upon having a school system responsive to that community’s needs. To accomplish this, we must have a strong school-community partnership. It is critical that we improve the understanding of the school assignment process at the elementary level to our community. We also seek continuous improvement in our communication and in the customer service we deliver to our diverse community. In short, we must strive to become a more student and family-centered organization.

It is obvious that parents and staff had a certain expectation, and their perception of how recent news was delivered becomes their reality. The emotional responses are the quickest and strongest, as shown by the facebook post, the subsequent flurry of emails, phone calls and private messages, and culminating at tonight’s PTA Council meeting (or so I hear). These folks have a very real concern and they want to make sure their concerns are addressed. Hence “our voices are being heard”. Also, it is very interesting that the CFT (Champaign Federation of Teachers, aka “Teacher’s Union”) is seen as stepping in. It does seem a little odd that a balanced calendar school would be reverted to a standard calendar just to make it easier on those doing the construction. Surely there are other factors at play here. What exactly are the facts? How best do we take what we have so far and smash it together in a collaborative effort? The Superintendent is saying the school district wants to work with the community, and the community is saying they want a voice at the table. How do we bring these two things together?

As I have said before, I welcome differences of opinion on this blog. Why? I will tell you, and I hope it is obvious why this is relevant to the situation with Kenwood. Contrary perspectives, and even adversity, help us see things in a totally different light. He who thinks he has the answers stops learning; may we not fall into that trap.

How do you react to this?

Yes you can

I had a really good talk with a very involved Unit 4 parent today and we spent a bit of time dancing around the topic of advocacy. One of the things we discovered during our conversation is that the only reason why we have this need for advocacy in the first place is because the system and society that we live in right now has power structures that are oppressive (and history tells us that this has been going on for a long long time); by “oppressive” I mean that the voice of dissent is consistently and systematically squashed. What confuses me is why the masses continue to abide by this twisted reality, why we accommodate it and thus permit it. I know, you are thinking that the nature of oppression in the first place is to basically make sure the status quo is maintained, enslaving the will of those oppressed and thereby to force accommodation. To rape one’s sense of being and worth.


But we don’t have to accommodate at all. We can speak out against it. And in fact, I think we have a moral obligation to do so.


You think I am being melodramatic – I can tell by the way you are itching to move on to the next thing. Bear with me a moment more. I heard a story of a child who was uncomfortable with the “inappropriate” play of another child. The first child told the attending teacher and nothing happened. The child then went to the next level (someone higher) and things started happening (good for the first child, not so good for the second). The child has learned an important lesson of advocating for self; a pretty rare trait in one so young, but a very crucial one to learn none-the-less. I heard another story of a young girl who witnessed a friend being bullied. Filled with indignation, she told the bullies to stop and walked her friend away from the situation. This was a powerful story of advocating for someone else; she saw something was wrong and could not abide by it, but was compelled to make the situation right.


Frequently I hear of parents who struggle to successfully and satisfactorily engage the system of our public schools. Please note, I do hear many success stories as well – the change in Unit 4 since the beginning of 2012 has been significant, even if subtle. Yet there are still those cases where parents, or even other stakeholders, attempt to assail the walls of bureaucracy only to be rebuffed and thrown back. In such cases I want to implore you not to give up. I want to shout “Yes you can!”. You say you are but one person. Yes, I know, so am I.

“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”

— attributed to Mother Teresa


If something is not right, if something is objectionable or just plain wrong, say something about it. And don’t stop until Read the rest of this entry »

one of my goals for next year: winning the PTA Family Engagement Award

I have an RSS feed for the Illinois and National PTA facebook pages, and in the past few weeks have seen announcements about this effort (with a nice incentive) to engage families:

To be frank, for me it is not about the money; rather it is setting a goal and trying to achieve it. And I think, from what I have read so far, that this might be a worthy goal. So I put this out there for all you critics (and cynics *grin*) – please feel free to rip this apart, I only ask that you be honest and maybe even objective.

Another grant/award out there that is very similar is the “Take Your Family to School Week” (mentioned briefly a little whle back). Very similar, I think, although perhaps a little less permanent, or a little less deep.

One of the things I want to do is follow-up and see what happened afterwards; after the balloons deflated, after the confetti was all swept up, after all the chairs were put away. What kind of impact are the winners (and runner-ups) having throughout the year? What good examples and lessons can we extract?

A disturbing trend

Saw this on the PTA Facebook wall/page:


I commented on the facebook page itself (how do you link to a specific Facebook post?); I am not a big fan of churning out students for the sake of increasing industry. In fact, I am very bothered by it. We suffer from so many problems, our national competitive edge is just the tip of the iceberg.


What boggles my mind is the two completely different angles the article takes. The first half is all “rah! rah! let’s pump kinds into tech-heavy jobs” while the second half is about community, about questioning “tradition” and engendering a “let’s work together on solving social issues” attitude. Perhaps I have my polarized glasses on and am reading with a bias?

systemstate dump (aka, flushing out my head)

Over the past week or so, I have been reading and searching (is that called researching?). I am a bit overwhelmed and so for the sake of my own sanity, I am going to dump it all right here in a post. I apologize up front if this is in a format that is hard to consume.

Warning: Clicking “read more” may give you a link-heavy wall-of-text. Read the rest of this entry »

Unit 4 releases the Fall 2011 Handbook


This thing weighs in at 73 pages. Going to take a while to read and digest the tome. Here are some observations gleaned simply by skimming:

  • Quality Two-Way Communication: Hundreds of volunteers work with Unit 4 students each year as mentors, tutors, and guest speakers, as well as providing classroom support. Ad hoc committees allow parents and community members to provide input into district-wide programs in areas like attendance and discipline. Each campus has a Building Council that includes parent representation, and strong PTA/PTSA groups offer support for students and staff. A Key Communicator Network (KCN) provides community members the opportunity for direct dialogue with the Superintendent about issues of interest.” (p 5)
  • Listing of BOE members w/ contact information (pp 7-8)
  • “Unit 4 is committed to transparency and responsiveness. News and information are posted and clearly labeled on our website for your convenience. We have over 10,000 pages of information for the community, parents, and staff members and strive each day to communicate effectively” (p 10)
  • A mere two paragraphs for Schools of Choice (p 21)
  • Educational goals – very ambitious (which is good) (pp 23-24)
  • Almost 8 pages devoted to health information (pp 35-43)
  • About 6 pages for discipline (pp 47-53)
  • 3 paragraphs for the PTA, followed by 2 more paragraphs for other community engagement (pp 67-68)


I’ll have to come back to this later. A part of me is wondering what a “bottom-up” handbook would look like.

No Child Held Back

Victor Rivero recently wrote an EdTech article about moving away from NCLB. Interesting timing, eh?


So this is just a little strange for me. I feel like reflects a lot of the conversations that I have already been having. Except these guys take it to the next level and bring in people who know what they are talking about. The major downside is that I don’t see any conversations on the website. I see “Join the conversation”, but no conversation. It’s very much like walking into the Grand Opening of a store and all the shelves are bare. I see “Take action” but no actionable steps to be taken.


Here is another strange thing. Read the rest of this entry »